"WHAT WAS FUNNY WAS THOSE CHANGES WERE WHAT THEY TOLD ME TO IMPLEMENT, SO IN REALITY THEY ARE GIVING FEEDBACK TO THEMSELVES."
Screening Session: BLOCK 3
3rd Papaya Rocks Film Festival Online
22-28 Feb 2021 | Tickets £5 / £10 Full 7-Day Pass: bit.ly/PRFF-Tickets
"Strange" is an autobiographical story told in a visual journal style, a glimpse into an autistic author’s life exploring friendship, trails and the use of unique coping strategies.
Hi Cameron thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during these very strange times?
I am doing pretty well, thank you. My family and friends are healthy too, the internet exists if I ever need to contact someone far away, not to mention that I am autistic so naturally I socially distance myself anyway. On top of that, as an animator, I can work at home for the most part without needing to go outside to work or study.
Has this time offered you any creative inspiration?
Whilst I am never short of ideas, I have noticed that I benefit a lot more from going outside, because I can to experience new things outside of my own bubble. I miss going to operas, theatre, cinemas, especially art galleries. Whenever I go abroad with my family to Europe, we always make an effort to go to at least one art gallery.
Congratulations on having your film selected for the 3rd Papaya Rocks Film Festival, what does it mean to you to be part of such an amazing lineup of short films?
Thank you for accepting my film! I am thankful that any of my films are enjoyed enough to be a part of a festival, it always makes me happy and sometimes I am amazed that any of my films are alongside great talents.
Can you tell me a little bit about your film, how did this film come about?
My animated short film “Strange” is an autobiographical piece that I have been studying and self-reflecting all my life, ever since I was a baby. When you are born autistic, you are autistic for life. Basically, I explore myself as an autistic person, showing how I manage to stay alive in an otherwise chaotic world, with tools/techniques tailored to me and having good friends around. It is like a humorous, upbeat guide that has helped me. The setting takes place in Farnham, which is where I am currently studying for university degree, although my family runs an independent bookshop cafe in the Farnham town too. It is called the Blue Bear Bookshop, which is one of the scenes in the film “Strange”!
What where the biggest challenges you faced brining your film to life?
Good storytelling is something I value, and for this project it was especially difficult as it comes from real life and experiences. It was taking these personal memories that I thought were significant on an emotional, character driven level and somehow structuring it into a 3-act story that is compelling.
Originally, my film “Strange” was going to focus more on my friends, yet it felt a little aimless, almost like a slide show. The film had no story, just moments. When I eventually focused more on myself, there was something there. However, I still needed a beginning, middle and end whilst staying true to my personality and what happened.
How I achieved this was by connecting each memory or thought by association. These associations could be similarities in colour, the scene composition, a word or phrase, a visual, one leading to another. You may have noticed that there are a lot of animated transitions. That was done intentionally, not because it looks cool, but because I wanted to guide the viewer in a natural flow, particularly because the subject matter of Autism is complicated and often difficult to talk about (that is why the film’s style is comedic and wholesome) The scenes are connected through an individual’s thought process (yours truly), which can seem odd to some, you can even call it “Strange”. This also helps organise my thoughts. Transforming my film into an unorthodox hero’s journey.
In the end, I was quite proud with what I have accomplished, and I enjoyed making it work. If I had not faced one of the biggest challenges during that time for me, then I would not have grown as a storyteller or made “Strange” that people know today. If nothing else, the characters are also a huge driving force, the characters are the most apparent element in my film.
Looking back is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
Absolutely. There were quite a few scenes cut-out, a few animated, in fact. This was because my tutors thought those scenes were deemed unnecessary. When it was time for tutors to grade my film, they commented that the first half was excellent, yet the second half (the parts they told me to change before the grading) felt disconnected, especially the ending. What was funny was those changes were what they told me to implement, so in reality they are giving feedback to themselves.
In essences, I would have kept the deleted scenes, as they flesh out the characters even more and made the overall pacing more breathing space, which would have made the ending flourish.
Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?
I was non-verbal throughout my early childhood due to being autistic. Fortunately, I could think in pictures, I had the will to learn and I had the desire to draw. I used drawing to communicate all my thoughts, feelings and experiences. This naturally progressed to me doing animation, as that was the medium, I felt best suited to my imagination and ideas.
Overall, filmmaking is a form of communication that can help better express myself.
What has been some of the best advice you’ve been give?
Recently, I have been told to be selective with feedback. I am open minded, and I will listen. However, if the feedback does not serve my film into anything productive, constructive or helpful, then that is when an artist simply needs to become selective in order to preserve what makes a film good or unique. You cannot please everybody, and if that’s the case, I want to please the people that I care about. For instance, “Strange” made all my friends happy, and I think through we developed a stronger friendship.
Should filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of the films and stories they want to tell?
Sure! There’s infinite possibilities to choose from, why not pick a few!
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?
Giving a general advice to a crowd that I cannot see nor converse with on an individual basis is difficult, especially considering everyone’s circumstances are totally different. Just like how “Strange” is more about me as an autistic individual, and less about how to understand everyone whom is autistic or who has autism.
"If they feel an emotional resonance, if they laugh, cry or both, that is also a great response."
Nonetheless, I will give a few general tips that have helped me throughout my artistic journey so far, and I hope these can be useful to anyone aspiring to be a great artist!
1: Learn new things, this will inform not only your artwork, it additionally gives you an insight of you as a person and how you respond to the world around you. You end up with something truly unique. Research is a powerful, enriching tool. The best part is that you never stop learning! That could explain why I never run out of ideas.
2: Be confident in yourself and your work. This could be taking stress or nervousness into excitement when you are, for example, talking about your film in a Q&A in front of lots of people. Also, confidence can be being yourself, and believing in your self-worth as an artist. This not only helps with productivity yet also in wellbeing/health. Saying that, it is great to have someone you deeply trust in giving you great feedback. I ask for feedback quite often, but sometimes, your gut, your instincts as an artist, are the most powerful things you have that can guide you to the best solution possible.
3: Have a plan yet leave some room for improvisation. Creative spontaneity is key in finding a solution, be it production, editing, acting, even scripts and stories can be altered on the day of filming/animating, because one might realise that, seeing everything together, why not try this thing this way and see how it works? It might work, it might not, just have fun with it!
4: Avoid comparing yourself to others as much as you can. It is great to look up to someone, or even collaborate with an artist that you admire (I encourage that - if they ignore you, then it’s their lost, not yours), yet it can be quite another to be competitive (which is natural, filmmaking and animation is a competitive industry). A healthy competition between friendly rivalry can be great for productivity to a certain degree, although, I strongly suggest that an artist should focus on their own personal achievements and not what others have achieved. You must remember the context of you and yourself as an artist. In my case, because I am autistic, it is a noticeable improvement that I managed to not only create art that people can enjoy, my life skills, social skills have drastically skyrocketed and continue to exceed expectations. Many people don’t even know that I am autistic, occasionally my friends or parents even forget that I am autistic! Sometimes winning an award is not as special as personal development, although never be afraid to accept both!
5: You cannot please everyone, so try to please your selected audience/people/demographic that you truly care about, or at the very least, a film that you care about and are proud of! Of course, avoid echo-chambers, there is always room for a civilised debate!
I hope these words helped!
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your film?
Anything positive will be a great achievement in my book. If they learned a little bit about me or an inkling on autism that makes them want to learn more, that is fantastic because my film “Strange” is educational.
If they feel an emotional resonance, if they laugh, cry or both, that is also a great response. Maybe they needed something optimistic or wholesome in their life. Or perhaps they may simply enjoy the story and characters, which is awesome!
Simply put, I hope my films can communicate and connect with people in a way that is useful to them. I sincerely hope that I bring a positive effect, that gives something special to someone.